Up in smoke? How to carry out a fire risk assessment

3d_blocksAlthough industrial fires are relatively rare, when they do strike they can be utterly devastating. In order to combat this threat, The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into effect in October 2006, sweeping away over 70 different pieces of fire safety law. Under the Order, a responsible person must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and implement and maintain a fire management plan. In this guide – which originally appeared in RoSPA’s Occupational Safety & Health Journal we look at what you need to do to fulfil your responsibilities and protect your organisation from the risk of fire…

Under health and safety law enforced by the HSE, all non-domestic premises in England and Wales are required to undertake regular fire risk assessments. Bearing in mind that, like any type of risk assessment, one size does not fit all, the following steps should be taken:

Step 1 – Identify the hazards within the premises paying particular attention to:

  • sources of ignition such as naked flames, friction sparks, heaters or chemical processes;
  • sources of fuel such as storage of waste, display materials, textiles or overstocked products;
  • sources of oxygen such as air conditioning or medicinal or commercial oxygen supplies.

Step 2 – Identify people at risk, including those at particular risk, such as:

  • people working near to fire dangers;
  • people working alone or in isolated areas (such as in roof spaces, sheds or storerooms);
  • children or parents with babies, the elderly or infirm, people who are disabled, visitors, clients and contractors.

Step 3 – Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risk

  • evaluate the level of risk in the premises, then remove or reduce any fire hazards where possible and reduce any risks that have been identified. For example, highly flammable materials could be replaced with less flammable ones;
  • make sure that flammable materials are separated from sources of ignition;
  • ensure that smokers who go outside to smoke do so in areas that are well away from waste, LPG cylinders etc.
  • When the risk has been reduced as far as possible, any risk that is left must be assessed and a decision made as to whether there are any further measures that need to be taken to provide a reasonable level of fire safety.

Step 4 – Record, plan, instruct, inform and train

  • the dangers and people identified in steps 1 and 2 and the measures taken at step 3 should be recorded (in writing if more than five people are employed – though relying on memory is not recommended);
  • an emergency plan, tailored to the premises, should be made stating the action which should be taken in the event of a fire. This includes ensuring that everyone knows what to do if a fire breaks out, including how to raise the alarm; when it is appropriate to tackle the blaze using in-house firefighting equipment and when to leave it to the professionals; what routes to take to evacuate the workplace; and where to assemble so that a register can be taken;
  • there should be a programme of fire safety training for the whole workforce. New starters often have to wait for their chance for in-house training of any kind so it is vital that they are told, on their first day, what to do in the event of an emergency;
  • fire drills should be carried out at least once a year and a record of the results should be kept as part of the fire safety and evacuation plan.

Step 5 – Review and update the fire risk assessment regularly – especially when new processes and materials are being introduced and when external contractors are due on site.

fireman

Equipment

The types of firefighting equipment required depends on the business premises and the activities carried out. Any equipment should be properly installed, tested and maintained and members of staff should know how to use them if necessary. Regular checks should be carried out to make sure that:

  • all fire alarm systems are working;
  • the emergency lighting is working;
  • any faults in systems and equipment are recorded (along with a note of the action taken to rectify matters);
  • all escape routes are clear and the floor is in a good state;
  • all fire escapes can be opened easily;
  • automatic fire doors close correctly;
  • fire exit signs are in the right place and can be seen (temporary storage or other signage can often block them from view).

People

A responsible person must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and implement and maintain a fire management plan. A responsible person is someone with enough training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to be able to implement the measures properly. Remember, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the responsible person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

Further information

The Five Step Guide to Risk Assessment

Risk assessment template? Why one size doesn’t fit all

Fire safety in the workplace

HSE fire safety advice

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